The European Fastener Distributors Association (EFDA) celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2020. Editor Will Lowry therefore went to Germany to meet Volker Lederer, president of EFDA, to discuss how the association has developed over the last twenty years and how it supports its members.
EFDA celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. How was the association established and what have been the key points in its development?
“20 – 25 years ago there were national associations, such as the German, French and British associations, but we didn’t have a European association. However, the fastener manufacturers did have a European association – the European Industrial Fasteners Institute (EIFI) – which was very good at representing the interests of fastener manufacturers in Brussels to the European Commission.
For instance, towards the end of the 1990s we got our first anti-dumping investigation on stainless steel fasteners and EIFI played a crucial role in that process, as they were able to explain to the European Commission the situation from the manufacturers point of view. As distributors we were unable to fight for our interest, as we did not have a European association and so we were powerless. We realised that if we wanted to be heard and have a say at the European level, we needed to have a European umbrella association. That is how and why EFDA was founded 20 years ago and it was the first step in the right direction.
The next key step in the development of EFDA was the reorganisation of its structure around 2012. Whilst we were benefiting from having a European association, we didn’t necessarily have the right set-up to work at the European level. We therefore looked to change the structure of EFDA and introduced an advisory board, an assembly of delegates, and a task force for technical or legal issues. This helped us to become more efficient and flexible as an organisation. We also required better representation in Brussels, so we decided to start working with the Bundesverband Großhandel, Außenhandel, Dienstleistungen e.V (BGA), which is a professional organisation, based in Berlin, that focuses on representing the interests of wholesalers, foreign trade companies, as well as B2B services, on a national, European and international level.
This resulted in us having a BGA representative as our secretary general, which led to us becoming more professional. For the last five years our secretary general has been Alexander Kolodzik, who has been excellent at representing EFDA and our members.
I believe we now have the same level of input as EIFI within the European Commission, which is vital as both manufacturers’ – and distributors’ – voices can be heard, and the European Commission can get a balanced view.”
How has the fastener market developed since EFDA was founded?
“The big difference is that twenty years ago, distributors were traditional distributors in the sense that they simply sold products to industrial customers. Today, we are more and more a service partner.
Quite often you will now find customers have a single supplier for their whole range of fasteners, and sometimes C-parts. That is a completely different cooperation to twenty years ago, when multiple distributors were used and purchasing decisions were based on price and availability. Whilst price is still a critical factor in the market, quality and services have also become just as important and as a single supplier you need to be able to supply everything.
Customers’ requirements are also continuously growing and as distributors we have to support them on the global market. This means offering technical support, introducing sophisticated logistic systems, focusing on digitisation and connectivity, as well as looking at C-parts management systems to reduce stock levels. We are also still responsible for the quality of the products and ensuring the right suppliers are used for reliable and consistent supply.
This means distributors today now have very modern operations. They no longer have a ‘simple warehouse’ they have efficient logistic centres, supported by qualified people. The whole process of distribution is a much more sophisticated process than it was twenty years ago, and this development will only continue in the future.”
Do you think the establishment of EFDA has helped the European Commission to understand the key role distributors play within the fastener market and the European economy?
“I would definitely say ‘yes’ and a vital step in that was the creation of the EFDA brochure two years ago. It highlights what distribution is doing today in Europe and what our tasks are and how we are supporting the European industry. The brochure also underlines how innovative we are; and how global; as well as how many people are involved in fastener distribution; and the sales turnover of the industry. We are not just some small group of fastener distributors, we are a big industry and the brochure has helped underline this and shows the significant role we play.”
As well as representing them in Brussels, what else does EFDA offer to national associations and members?
“A big advantage of being part of EFDA is the networking opportunities available to members. First of all, we have the assemble of delegates every September/October, where two delegates of every association come together from all the national associations, plus MEFDA. At these events we discuss EFDA’s strategy, targets for the future, and different associations can meet to discuss topics and then relay the information to each member.
There is also the triennial conference where everybody can meet and discuss the key themes within the market. The last conference was two years ago in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and we had over 130 attendees from Europe and all over the world. This is a big and helpful network for everybody who is a member of their national association.
Another significant part of EFDA membership is that we are the conduit to the European authorities, so we know what is going on in Brussels. We get official information and we can understand what is involved. We can then forward lots of this information from Brussels to our members, which they would not be able obtain if it was not for EFDA.”
EFDA stands for free and fair trade, but what does this mean in practice?
“To stand for free and fair trade is maybe the most important target of our organisation. EFDA promotes unrestricted market access of our members to all global markets – in order to be competitive and to give the optimal support to customers.
However, we are not naïve, we know free and fair trade requires rules, and if the rules are broken then you need sanctions, such as anti-dumping. However, we think it must be fair and balanced.
We therefore oppose any measures against free trade that are simply protectionist. Our sector has experience of protectionism, with the unfairly high anti-dumping duties on imports of steel fasteners until February 2016. This is something we do not want to happen again.
We want free access to the global market, but we don’t want to destroy the European manufacturers, as we know how critical they are to the European industry. Manufacturers and distributors are not enemies, we are two sides of a coin and the European fastener industry needs both of us. There is space in the market for both of us to develop and we should be supported equally.”
What opportunities and challenges lie ahead? What developments do you see for EFDA and the fastener and fixing industry over the next twenty years?
“The main thing for EFDA is that we want to keep our position at the European level. We have a good relationship within Brussels, but now we have to keep this strong dialogue and continue to work for the interests of fastener distributors.
As an association we have also established a good network for distributors and we want to continue this development – not only within Europe, but also with associations in North America and Asia. It is always a positive to have a big exchange of ideas and opinions on a global level and we must strengthen these relationships to ensure this global network grows in the future.
Another point is we want more members, so we still need to be attractive to companies that are not part of a country with a national association. We have MEFDA (More EFDA) and we currently have 8 companies from countries without an association, but we are looking to grow this number. Obviously, if any other national associations in Europe start, then we would support them and look to encourage them to become a member of EFDA as well.
Finally, we want to continue to give optimal support and make sure we are doing a good job in the interest of our members and member associations.”
Will joined Fastener + Fixing Magazine in 2007 and over the last 12 years has experienced every facet of the fastener sector - interviewing key figures within the industry and visiting leading companies and exhibitions around the globe.
Will manages the content strategy across all platforms and is the guardian for the high editorial standards that the Magazine is renowned.